Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cooking Experiments

This is a kohlrabi....Gardenmom had NOOO idea how to cook a kohlrabi. So I googled it. You might ask, why are you bothering growing things that you have no idea how to cook? Well, Gardenmom is a grow first, ask questions later kinda gal. So, after googling it, I decided to try mashing it like a potato. First, I removed all the leaves and peeled it. This is about 5 inches across.

After peeling it, I chopped it up into small pieces.

Then I boiled it until the pieces were soft. After that I searched for 10 minutes for a potato masher and realized I don't own one. Right now I am following several antique wooden potato mashers on ebay. I settled for using my food processor right then. I mixed it up with butter, milk, and a little salt.

Meanwhile, I sauteed some fresh garden peas with a little butter. I think next time I will steam them, because some of the littler peas turned out a little tough with sauteing.

This was the final result. A meatless dinner of garden experiments. I could have paired it with some fish or some free-range chicken, but oh well. I added a handful of herbs to the mashed kohlrabi and called it good.

This is my new breadmaker that I picked up yesterday. I have already made two loaves with it. It is a Breadman model. It will bake up to a 2 lb loaf. I am excited about making my own bread with local, organic flour. My guy is pretty psyched about fresh bread every day.

Here I am observing it rising during the 'fast bake' mode. You can go from zero to loaf in 58 minutes!

Here is my second loaf. I did much better the second time, because I learned how to scrape down the sides of the pan while it is mixing. This is a huge loaf of bread. The crust is perfect...just the right texture and color.

This is a close up of one of my hybrid lilies that is blooming right now. The petals actually shimmer. I don't know how they breed flowers to look like they have glitter in them, but this lady is a genius. I buy my lilies from Nan Ripley, who lives about 20 miles from here. Most of her business is hybridizing lilies.


I am very impressed with her work. I have another variety that is not blooming yet.

I also noticed how much nicer pictures my guy's fandango camera takes than my little everyday camera. Mine is 6.1 megapixels. I don't know how many his has, but it is obviously much better than mine. I took the flower pictures with his.

This is my luna hibiscus. The blooms are little because the plant is still little. It is still about 5 inches across though.

And my coreopsis. I love them. They are the most cheerful little things i have ever seen. I need to deadhead him, but I have been busy. We are having a birthday party for my son and stepdaughter next week, and I want the yard to look great.

Stay tuned, for more cooking experiments with Gardenmom! Next week, who knows, maybe purslane salad!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Joys of Summer

This is my first pea harvest ever. It might be hard to tell, but that is a pretty big bowl. Some of the peas I picked too small, because I am inexperienced, but I figured out quickly which ones were actually ready to be eaten as peas, and which needed some more time. The peas will be done within a few weeks though I imagine. They are still young and tender enough to eat as snaps though, too. My lettuce is bolting. This makes me sad, because there is SO much lettuce, and a lot of it will go into the compost. As far as I can tell though, guinea pigs do not mind eating bolted lettuce, so maybe it won't all go to waste.

I am now on hibiscus number three. The first one, from the master gardener's sale, is still exactly the same size it has been since the second week of May. The second one, from Holub's, is still exactly the same size it has been since the third or so week of May, minus a few lower leaves to the bunnies. Hibiscus number three also has a lot going on the first two, like blooms, and leaves, and color. It looks like it will have a bloom on it in a few days. It is from Lowes. Go figure. I think part of the problem is my clay soil. I am not used to working in these conditions. I think some of the plants aren't growing because they can't push roots through the thick clay. I have finally figured out that everytime I plant something now, I have to dig out all the clay, and amend with a bunch of organic garden soil. Hopefully that helps.

Yesterday, I took all the kids to the lake. They had a blast! And the best part? The lake is free! And not crowded! I'm so cheap...lol. No, really, I just think there are plenty of ways to have fun that don't cost much or anything. Oh, you can also take toys to the lake (the pool won't let you bring that stuff usually).

The raging sunburn the older kids have is not from me! I smother them in sunblock. They went to the pool the day before at their mom's house, and no one reminded them to put sunblock on there. Here the boys are starting their sandcastle complete with moat.

The boys love to run and bellyflop into the water. My littlest one is beginning to become more comfortable in the water. He will go in without floaties now, though usually hanging onto the noodle.

This is an extremely short video of the bellyflopping. They were really worn out by the time we got home. They managed to recover enough energy to come out in the garden after dinner.

They are eating purslane, which is a weed, but a very edible one, and fresh peas and herbs straight out of the garden. Our kids don't learn enough now about where food comes from... we have lost our cultural knowledge of which foods are good to eat unless they are on a supermarket shelf. I swear that my children will understand how food grows, the work that goes into it, and understand the difference in taste between fresh local food and processed hybridized food that has been bred to sit in a truck for a week and more.

The kids finished the evening off with some good old-fashioned lightning bug catching. My son is obsessed with catching them and keeping them in his room. I make him set them free the next morning.

The kids slept really well last night. We didn't have the tv on once.

So today the kids are off doing other things, so I am back to garden work. Today I was picking peas and thinning the carrots. My guinea pigs will be very happy tonight, eating the thinned out teeny carrots and the greens. I am really impressed with the ways the peas have been producing. It is a hybrid seed that self supports. Hybrid is not all bad, if you can raise it yourself under your own local, organic conditions. I try to do heirloom seeds mostly, but these are self-supporting. They kind of grow on each other and cling to each other. They are really funny...I can flip them over from side to side depending on where I want them to be. They move like wings.

This is my new fairy garden. I know some people make really fancy little ones with elaborate dollhouse like furniture...but I am pretty proud of my first attempt. I have a little sedum and a dwarf bush basil as vegetation for right now. I have some little mini garden tools on the way from ebay.

Here is the veggie garden now...It is hard to get the whole thing in one shot.

You can see the corn and beans are really going.

This is my brugmansia that I got at a garden sale for 10 dollars! It is growing furiously now that I brought it outside, and it hopefully soon I will have huge trumpet like blooms. They smell fantastic at night.

I love summer...and I love my job, because it enables me to spend so much more time with my kids. The gardening is a bonus, but the true joy of my summer is the kids.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

On the last full day of our trip to Chicago, we paid a visit to the Morton Arboretum (the same guy as Morton salt). It is a beautiful place, with different themed areas for children each year. A lot of the grounds is hiking/biking/running trails, but you can drive through most of the area in your car, and just look, if you like. This year's theme was animal homes. They had different biomes, wetlands, woodlands, etc, and homes for various animals that might live there.

This is a beaver home. All the homes are 'enlarged' so that the kids can run in and around them, pretending to be the animal. Many have play structures or small furniture built in. All the homes have a sign explaining why the animal preferred this type of dwelling.

This is supposed to be a raccoon home. You can't really see the woven stick raccoon peeking out of the top. I didn't realize raccoons had handmade wooden rockers...

The arboretum also boasts an extremely large children's garden and conifer maze. Unfortunately, the children's garden closed at five, so we only had about 25 minutes to look around and then we had to get out. I'm sure we could have spent a couple hours in there.

We also spent more time in the Naperville area, attending a local farmer's market, and riding paddle boats near the riverwalk. I absolutely loved the farmers market. I got honey, lip balm, jam, onion relish, sauces, squashes, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, and more with about 40 dollars. Oh, and don't forget the natural peanut butter with two ingredients on the label: roasted peanuts, salt. I love that.

My son loved the paddle boats. He is finally big enough to ride one, in my opinion. I get a little freaked out about small children sitting unrestrained in tipsyturvey boats in the middle of a lake, but it worked out okay. I didn't have to dive in after him. I am a little uncomfortable with deep water, and I wasn't looking forward to that.

A beautiful bell tower near the Riverwalk. It was a really full day. We had bison burgers at a restaurant called Buffalo Ted's (like Ted Turner). They were fantastic (and free range, lol). Buffalo Ted's may have the world's most tasty french fries and lemonade. Towards the evening we stopped by Trader Joe's so I could check it out. It was cute, but after Whole Foods, it was kind of a let down. Don't get me wrong, they had fantastic stuff that was organic, and the theme is more like a kitchzy beach bum thing, but it was more like a normal grocery store. I didn't see much more local produce than whole foods, but they had a fantastic wine selection (helloooo three-buck chuck) and a large variety of Trader Joe's brand products. I got several bottles of wine, oil, and sparkling lemonade. I also picked up a very yummy trail mix (Sweet, Savory & Tart Trek Mix) plus a cool reusable bag.

I was really missing home by then. My son was ultra crabby the whole drive home. He griped at me everytime I stopped, telling me to get back on the road. I stopped once for lunch, and I asked him if he would like anything. He said, "NO....just keep driving!" Anyways, I had to attend a church meeting for vacation bible school when we got back to Des Moines, and then FINALLY I got to go home.

Vacation is wonderful, but I really am a homebody. I missed my house and my yard and my pets, and most of all my fiance. I practically jumped on him and hugged him when he came home from work. So, it is back to the peaceful grind of weeding and plant care, plus Iowa heat. Stay tuned to see if Gardenmom melts in the hot summer sun, or just sends up stalks and gets bitter (lettuce joke...ha ha).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vacation is Fun but Exhausting!

Last night when we were shopping at an outlet mall, a MAJOR storm went over. It caused a lot of damage to the area, pulling down power lines and tree branches. We had to run for the car with the 5 year old and the baby. We got completely soaked by the time we got there. So, considering how wet we got, we don't look half bad for dinner.

Yesterday we spent several hours at an indoor waterpark at the local YMCA. I am sure there are countries that are easier to get into than this place. My friend has a membership already, but my son and I had to purchase a daily pass. Since, my friend hadn't added her infant son yet, they put him on the account. Then they took HIS PICTURE AND GAVE THE 7-MONTH OLD HIS OWN MEMBERSHIP CARD. As if upon entering the Y, the baby will remove his membership card from his diaper and wave it at the desk clerk. Then, they made us fill out a front and back full page form with our information. They took our pictures, but then we didn't get a card. The charge for one day is 25 dollars! Maybe I am a naive Iowa gal, but that seems outrageous to me. I am used to things that are free or very cheap. My friend and I paid the fee together, because my son wanted to go swimming, but man...

We ended up having a lot of fun...even after the sticker shock. It was a very cool place. My son ran around grinning and showing the gap between his teeth the whole time.

We are leaving very early in the morning. We have a lot of driving to do to get back home. So, I give up for tonight.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is That the Sea?

Another fabulous day, this time in actual Chicago. Here my son stands near Shedd Aquarium, by Lake Michigan, showing off the cool skyline. (We don't have skyscrapers in Iowa, with the exception of a couple puny ones in Des Moines...can you count grain elevators?) His shirt says, "I make dirt look good," with a John Deere logo. As if his total fascination and lack of experience with seagulls wouldn't give us away as Iowa people. I spend a lot of time in Des Moines, which is a fairly large metropolitan area...yet when I tell people from Chicago that I am from Iowa, they look at you like you a total country bumpkin. I feel like saying, "Well, we don't use'ly wear shoes, but we thought as we was goin' to the big city, we'd get us some of those new-fangled tennis shoes..." Lol. And they totally don't realize you are joking.

We got to walk along the lakefront for quite a while, and did not actually visit the Shedd Aquarium (they had a 2.5 hour wait), but we walked around the outside and my son played in a cool childrens' garden. We spent most of the day at the Field Museum.

We visited the pirate exhibit, which featured artifacts from an actual pirate ship, found at the bottom of the sea. My son loved the murals and the life-size replicas of rooms on the ship.

His favorite was the Underground Adventure exhibit, in which you pretend you are less than an inch high, and you going through an underground tunnel, where you encounter comparatively large worms, bugs, and invertebrates. Here is breaking out of his cicada shell.

You gardeners will know this one, only much bigger and more frightening. I think they are gross when I am normal size...earwigs. Except in this exhibit it was 8 feet long and snapped its tail pincers at us when we got close to its eggs. We actually learned a lot about soil preservation, and went through a really cool Egypt exhibit. My son learned about Egyptian ancient history and can explain in detail the part about weighing your heart, to see if it weighs more or less than a feather, and then the monster Ammit eats you if you are a bad person.

Here is a shot of 'Sue', the tyrannosaurus, as we were leaving, no, correct me, we were being rudely shoved out the door while we tried to take one last picture. Even though nobody tried to make us leave the GIFT SHOP after hours.

What a good baby! He was an absolute doll through several hours in the museum. Tomorrow is a visit to a local arboreteum, and possibly an indoor water park in the afternoon. Also in the mix, a visit to a Trader Joe's. Another store I have never been to...I'm sure it will be an experience.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beating The Heat

My son is enjoying the finest fountains Naperville, Illinois has to offer. Today we went on our first official vacation getaway of the summer. We live near Des Moines, Iowa, so a suburb of Chicago is not super far away, but it is really the first time my son has really known what 'vacation' means. He has been looking forward to this for months. We drove about 5 hours today to get here, and we are staying with a very close friend who had a baby back in November.

Here my son is taking a break to look at the map while we are at a rest stop. Yes, that is his rabbit hanging from the clothing hook. His idea, not mine. Anyways, today we drove to my friend's house and needing food, went to tour the local "Whole Foods" store. I had never seen one of these before. It is kind of like an organic supermart. I was impressed by the sheer amount and variety of produce they had, it was beautiful. Anything you wanted organic, they had it. They also have a lovely card by each product telling where it was made. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of Mexicos, and United States, California, but not very many Illinois, or even Wisconsin or Ohio. I think it is kind of sad, because people obviously shop here because they care very much about what they are eating, or why else would you buy organic? However, there didn't seem to be much focus on what is local. In all though, it was an impressive selection. They seemed to have all the hard to find products that I usually have to go to three different natural food stores in Des Moines to get. I did purchase a cool Holy Cow shirt. It is organic cotton, which doesn't make a big difference to me, but is supersoft, and sweatshop free and fair trade.

"You wouldn't put chemicals in me, would you?" he seems to say. Ha ha. This is the cute little guy we came to visit. Look at those baby blues. My son is having a lot of fun helping to take care of the baby. It is neat to see a nurturing side to my son, because I kind have always wondered, if I had another baby, would he smother it?

After our visit to Whole Foods, we went to the Naperville Riverwalk area, to give my son a chance to unwind. He made himself comfortable splashing in the edge of this fantastic fountain. We are planning to come back Saturday and check out the farmers market (YaY, local produce) plus check out the paddle boats. Tomorrow, we are planning a visit to the Field Musuem in Chicago proper.

I love this picture. He is so peaceful looking. Yes, I do feed him; I know you can count his ribs, but if you saw his dad, you would know that it is genetic. He has been such a sweetheart all today, very polite and helpful. I just know it is going to be a wonderful vacation.
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